Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blog comments etiquette question

Scientific experiments get their illuminatory power from the researcher's willingness to specify, before s/he sees the results, what a 'fair' process for interpreting them would be.

Thus research is the opposite of public relations - if we consider "spin" to be "creative interpretation of the data so as to support a predetermined conclusion", PR flacks try to maximize 'spin', researchers try to eliminate it.

And the way they eliminate it is by deciding ahead of time, "if the data were to come out looking like X, I would conclude Y" - in other words, by posing and answering hypothetical questions.

This is a hugely powerful tool, that goes a long way toward controlling for our natural tendency to interpret the data so as to favor our preferred conclusion.

And - coming from a science background - I hate to see a perfectly good tool lying unused, when it could be so helpful.

Which is why it drives me batty when NCFocus blog commenters refuse to answer hypothetical questions - it says to me that their goals aren't mine, they're here for fighting/winning, not for learning.

(some people would disparage this as a "litmus test" - but one man's litmus test is another woman's valuable tool for discerning mindsets.)

So, the etiquette question is this: is it reasonable for the blog owner to say "I want the comments to be worth my time, I want them to be for learning not for fighting", and to achieve this by restricting commenting to those individuals who will answer hypothetical questions?

If the site was my living room, I'd definitely want to invite learners in and not invite fighters back.

So it's tempting to do the same here, but it also brings to mind the adage "if you want to test someone's character, don't give them adversity, give them power" - i.e. this might be a very bad idea, either inherently or as the start of a slippery slope toward comment-toadyism.

And there's a BIG positive externality, that comes from having a place where people from different walks and philosophies of life talk to each other, even if nobody's mind gets changed on the specific issues - and if you narrow the functionality and prerequisites, you'll lose that.

(State: still a little bit cranky, thinking aloud, not ready to stand behind any conclusions, feeling a bit guilty about coming down too hard on today's commenter whose comment I haven't approved (yet), and definitely in need of sleep. I will be wiser tomorrow.)


Anna said...

Michael and Debra, what are your respective email addresses? I'd like to talk to each of you privately.

(you can provide them as a comment to this post - that way it's sure of reaching me, and, since comments are premoderated now, it won't be published)

Anna said...


Russ Steele said...


Tomorrow it will be 30 days since you have posted. What is wrong. Does Global Warming have you under the weather?


Anna said...

Very funny, Russ.

"Before anything can be done, something else must be done first."

I'm not going to post to the blog until I have replied to Debra and Michael, and I haven't done that because, well, it's not my highest priority task.

In any case, empirically, it seems my blog likes to go on vacation in summer.
(not sure where, it never sends postcards.)